Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a long awaited report this week on the ongoing violence and killings of Shia Hazara Muslims in Pakistan. The report, entitled We are the Walking Dead: Killing of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan, Pakistan, details the continuing campaign of terrorism and murder being waged against the minority Hazara community, particularly by Lashkar e-Jhangvi and a handful of other groups. In doing so, the report attempts to provide a detailed examination of the political and social causes and effects of the attacks.
While the report is noteworthy for the fact that it provides detailed eyewitness accounts of the massacres and terrorist attacks, it is equally noteworthy for what it leaves out, namely the role that Western intelligence agencies, in particular the CIA (also India’s RAW, UK’s Mi6, and Israel’s Mossad), have played, and continue to play, in this conflict. Conveniently also, there is no discussion of the larger geopolitical and strategic interests which help to shape US, and other countries’, policies toward Pakistani terrorism, and Pakistan in general. Of course, HRW is focused on the issue of “human rights” so, naturally, one would not expect a detailed examination of the geopolitics. However, in providing only a partial analysis, HRW acts as a political tarot card reader, drawing broad conclusions about what should be done, while providing a frustratingly opaque and limited picture of the situation.
Who’s Killing the Hazara?
HRW’s report focuses almost entirely on the organization known as Lashkar-e-Janghvi (LeJ), a militant Sunni group that views all Shias as “enemies of Pakistan.” Indeed, LeJ is quick to take responsibility for every successful terrorist operation targeting Hazara Shias in Pakistan. Whether this means that LeJ is genuinely behind all these attacks, or if they are merely taking credit for another group’s handiwork, is still a major question.
While LeJ is the focal point of HRW’s report, they are by no means the only group engaging in this sort of terrorism. In fact, a number of groups operating in the Balochistan region have been responsible for a variety of attacks. Groups such as the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), Balochistan Republican Army (BRA), Lashkar-e-Taiba, Tehrik-i-Taliban, and Jundallah have all carried out similar terrorist operations. It is impossible to say exactly which group carried out which attack, as many of the eyewitness accounts are either unreliable or conflicting, and tend to be dependent on the perspective of the witness. What is of primary importance is not so much assigning blame for each individual act of terrorism, but understanding the larger context of these attacks and the motivation behind them.
Sectarian attacks of this kind are designed to sow discord among the religious and ethnic groups of any country, ultimately leading to internal conflict, civil war, and the breakup of countries. It has happened many times before, and is happening currently in places such as Iraq and Syria. Sectarian conflict has been a principal tool of imperialists for centuries, keeping peoples and nations divided along racial, ethnic, religious and class lines. And so, in examining the issue of Hazara killings, the question becomes: Who benefits from such heinous acts? Cui bono?
Indeed, here LeJ becomes a prime suspect. Not only is their ideology militantly anti-Shia, they are reportedly funded by “private Arab donors,” a polite euphemism for Saudi/Gulf financing. As Stanford University’s “Mapping Militant Organizations: Lashkar-e-Jhangvi” notes, “LeJ has received money from several Persian Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These countries funded LeJ and other Sunni militant groups primarily to counter the rising influence of Iran’s revolutionary Shiism.”
And so, as with hundreds of other militant Sunni extremist groups, the money trail leads back to the Gulf monarchies, and perhaps most principally, Saudi Arabia. This should come as no surprise considering the fact that Saudi Arabia uses militant wahhabi groups as a means of power projection throughout the Muslim world. Specifically, the Saudis see Shia Iran as their greatest regional rival, and so they continue to finance radical Sunni groups (be they affiliated with Al Qaeda or not) as a bulwark against Iranian power. It is within this context that demagogues in Pakistan refer to the Shia Hazaras as “agents of Iran” and “untrustworthy,” a tacit approval for the terrorist acts perpetrated against them.
LeJ is certainly not the only group deserving attention. Another important group is the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the complex of political and militant groups associated with it. The BLA has long been a project of the Bugti clan, led by a prominent Baloch family with long-standing ties to Mi6 and the CIA. The organization ostensibly fights for Baloch self-determination and independence and, in so doing, has waged a decades-long terror war against the Pakistani state and anyone, be they Balochi or not, who expresses pro-Pakistani sentiment.
While the funding for BLA is somewhat murky, the general contours of the financial network are well known. As Stanford University’s “Mapping Militant Organizations: Balochistan Liberation Army” noted:
Pakistani intelligence agencies are convinced that Indian consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad, Afghanistan, are providing covert arms, financial aid, and training to the BLA in an attempt to destabilize Pakistan and blocking [sic] Chinese influence in Balochistan…Pakistani politicians have also claimed that U.S. and British intelligence agencies are supporting Balochi rebellion in order to sabotage the proposed [Iran-Pakistan] oil pipeline, as it could undermine U.S. control of Gulf oil. The Pakistani government has not offered any hard evidence to back their claims…There are reports that the large, and wealthy, Baloch diaspora in the Gulf states remit money that goes to funding militant organizations within Balochistan.
It’s become quite clear that the BLA, like countless other terrorist outfits around the world, is being covertly funded by the US and its allies as a means of destabilizing Balochistan, and Pakistan more broadly. The killings of Shia in Balochistan is an afterthought to the intelligence agencies who see in Balochistan something far more than a poverty-stricken land filled with oppressed and marginalized people. In Balochistan they see a lever to be used against Iran and, in the grander scheme, China.
Jundallah and Lashkar-e-Taiba both deserve critical attention as well, as each is based in Balochistan, though they have decidedly different targets. Jundallah, an organization notorious for its long-standing ties to both Israeli Mossad and US CIA, is a terror group founded by the infamous Rigi family as an anti-Iranian proxy force. The organization has been attacking various Iranian and non-Iranian Shia targets for years. Lashkar-e-Taiba, the infamous terrorist organization responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, is also based in the Balochistan region, and has carried out a number of bombings, targeted assassinations, and massacres in recent years, the Mumbai attack being merely the most high profile.
In an article published by the Qatari English-language newspaper The Peninsula, the author cited credible sources as saying that “the CIA is indulging in heavy recruitment of local people as agents (each being paid $500 a month)”. Additionally we know that the CIA, under the leadership of Gen. Petraeus, used Afghan refugees to destabilize Balochistan. The significance of these revelations should not be understated. The fact that the CIA is recruiting agents and informants throughout Balochistan indicates that the US strategy of subversion is multi-faceted. On the one hand, a network of agents allows for intelligence and information manipulation while, on the other hand, the United States engages in terrorism through a variety of terrorist groups it controls or manipulates either directly or indirectly. As was reported in Foreign Policy magazine, the CIA and Mossad compete to control Jundallah, an important fact because it shows the way in which the Western imperialists use Balochistan, the base of Jundallah, to wage covert war on Iran, including the assassination of scientists, terrorist bombings aimed at critical infrastructure, and targeted killings of ethnic minorities.
Many have charged that the US exerts direct and/or indirect control over a number of these terrorist organizations through the CIA. Though Washington, and its mainstream media organs, have dismissed these allegations as “conspiracy theories” countless times, such denials have become more difficult to accept, especially in the wake of the Raymond Davis case. Davis, a CIA operative in Pakistan, was arrested after murdering two Pakistanis. However, the New York Times revealed that Davis was:
Working from a safe house in the eastern city of Lahore…a retired Special Forces soldier, carried out scouting and other reconnaissance missions as a security officer for the Central Intelligence Agency… Mr. Davis has worked for years as a C.I.A. contractor, including time at Blackwater Worldwide, the private security firm (now called Xe) that Pakistanis have long viewed as symbolizing a culture of American gun-slinging overseas… Several American and Pakistani officials said that the C.I.A. team with which Mr. Davis worked in Lahore was tasked with tracking the movements of various Pakistani militant groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba.
So, Davis was at the very least in contact with Lashkar-e-Taiba, which lends credence to many of the allegations from a variety of sources that Davis, like a number of his CIA colleagues, acted as a “handler” for terrorist groups, providing them with the contacts necessary to carry out their attacks. It is still unclear the exact relationship between Davis and these terror organizations, though the circumstantial case of CIA involvement in terrorism in Pakistan certainly raises serious questions.
All of these terror groups, taken in total, paint a picture of a highly active terrorist presence in Balochistan, a volatile region separating Iran and Pakistan. However, the question is not simply what is happening in Balochistan, but why.
Balochistan is located in one of the most geographically and politically significant locations anywhere in the world. Not only does the region sit astride three countries (Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan) which have become central to Western political and military power projection, it is also central to the development and export of energy from Central Asia, access to the Indian Ocean, and a host of other geopolitical imperatives for both the West and the SCO/BRICS countries. Because of this, the region has grown exponentially in importance to all the major powers of the world.
Though the land seems, on the surface, to be inhospitable, it also holds great wealth just beneath the soil. Aside from what is believed to be a large quantity of natural gas and/or oil, the earth under the feet of the Baloch people holds vast quantities of minerals necessary for economic development. Because of this, the proxy conflict raging in the region takes on the added dimension of being a resource war, on top of a geographical and political one.
Balochistan’s location has another crucial element that makes it geopolitically necessary: it sits at the crossroads of the most important trade routes between West and East. Although, in the public mind, trade crossroads seem to be a thing of the past (one might imagine the Silk Road being traveled by camel), in fact, they are essential to development. Land-based trade, something the Chinese understand to be a linchpin of their economic and political evolution into a superpower, is made much more difficult without a stable and dependable Balochistan, and this is precisely what the United States and the West seeks to prevent.
This focus on land-based access to trade should always be seen in the context of energy. China’s insatiable thirst for oil and gas makes the development of pipelines from Central Asia, Iran, and elsewhere invaluable to them. The Iran-Pakistan pipeline, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, and other projects all serve to increase the importance of Balochistan in the eyes of the Chinese. Additionally, the Chinese-funded, Pakistani Gwadar Port is the access point for Chinese commercial shipping to the Indian Ocean and on to Africa. With all of this as a backdrop, one can begin to see just why Balochistan is so significant to the Chinese and, conversely, why the intelligence agencies of the United States and its Western allies seek to destabilize it.
The goals of the West vis-à-vis Balochistan have been, and remain, very simple: destabilize the region in order to block the Chinese from using it to assert their regional dominance and continue on the path to economic development. Using the same, tired tactics of terrorism and political subversion, they hope to achieve these aims. However, unlike the case of the British imperialist ruling class of a century ago, the United States and its allies and proxies must contend with a Pakistan that maintains a strong current of nationalism, one that in many ways rejects the hegemony of the United States in the region, and one that has friends internationally.
Of course, it is the people of Balochistan who remain victims. In particular, the Hazara community, for years now under assault from militant extremists, has paid a heavy price. As is so often and so tragically the case, the Hazaras find themselves victims in a deadly geopolitical game. At the regional level, Saudi Arabia and Iran vie for power, with the Saudis unleashing the deadly wahhabi groups on Iran and Iranian and Shia interests. On the global level, the US and China compete for access to markets and resources, with Balochistan a major flashpoint. All of this is to say that stopping the killing of Hazaras is not merely an anti-terrorism mission, it is the mission of anti-imperialism and global peace.
Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City, he is the founder of StopImperialism.org and OP-ed columnist for RT, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.